There may be no harder job in high school sports than being a football coach for a brand new school. Typically, you have no senior class to lean on, you have to build entirely new offensive and defensive units from scratch and you are, almost certainly, facing a debut season in which you will be lucky to win even one game.
That job will be even harder for Cypress Creek Middle/High School first-year head coach Mike Johnson.
At the first practice of the school’s first spring football session — where coaches will put in their offensive and defensive formations and unearth the leaders and identity of the team for the upcoming season, which starts in August —the Coyotes attracted two players.
The second day, there were five. Johnson said he wasn’t sure if anyone else would be showing up.
Because there is no place to practice yet at Cypress Creek, which is still under construction and opens in the fall, the five players — Kyle Cantwell, Kiaus Collins, Tim Ford, Devin Morris and Dylan Nagore — showed up the first week to train on an open field behind Weightman Middle School.
Although it may have looked more like friends working out on their own than a football team, the future Coyotes earnestly dashed between orange cones, worked on their back-pedals and polished their blocking techniques in near silence under the watchful eye of Johnson and five assistant coaches.
“It’s tough being in the situation we are in,’’ Johnson said, alluding to the fact that many, if not most, of his future players are currently going through spring drills just a few hundred yards away at Wesley Chapel High (WCH), and still others were at Wiregrass Ranch High (WRH) practicing with the Bulls.
Therein lies Johnson’s predicament.
After a long, hotly-contested process that rezoned many of the students at WCH and WRH for the fall, a large number of parents and students are unhappy about having to change schools for a number of reasons. Leaving some of the better academic and extra curricular programs at their current schools is one sore spot.
The same goes for football players. Many now living in the Cypress Creek attendance zone are most likely hopefully awaiting school choice assignments in order to stay with their current teams, rather than become a Coyote.
The timing for Cypress Creek football also couldn’t be any worse — Wesley Chapel is coming off a 7-2 season, its best since 2004, while Wiregrass Ranch won a school record seven games and made the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
“It’s tough on a lot of people,’’ Johnson said. “But we are happy with what we have out here and what we are doing.”
That positive approach is shared by the handful of Coyotes, who despite leaving successful programs for one sure to take its lumps in the fall, are currently receiving what amounts to 1-on-1 football training
Ford, a skills position player for WRH the past two years, says that Cypress Creek offers a fresh start for him.
And Nagore, a guard for the WRH junior varsity last year before getting called up to varsity later in the season, is attacking the challenge.
“I was mad at first,’’ said Nagore, who also happens to be the sophomore class president at Wiregrass Ranch. “It was hard at first moving from a great program to one just starting out. But, you have to be optimistic and make the best of it. It’s nice being the start of something.”
Other than a few footballs and cones and a rope ladder for running speed drills, Cypress Creek High doesn’t even have any equipment yet. The players won’t do any contact drills, and it will be impossible, for now, to put in any plays.
Johnson, however, hopes all that changes when school choice comes out and his future roster arrives, and he begins a summer-long weight training program — if the new school can complete it in time.
Until then, he will continue to coach whoever shows up as he prepares for the first season.
“I still look at this optimistically,’’ Johnson says. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for myself and the players coming out. And, for a lot of kids, I think it offers a fresh start.”